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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is Red Bull safe?

I like the Red Bull Energy Drink a lot, specially the "Light" one, which only has 8 calories. I like its flavor and indeed gives me more energy. Is there anything wrong with this drink? Is is healthy to drink it, especially the Red Bull Light given it only has 8 calories?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

a can of RedBull

Red Bull and similar energy drinks use caffeine as the primary ingredient to give you energy. There are two other ingredients in Red Bull are taurine and glucuronolactone. The claims are that these are helpful with neural function. There's not a lot of good research to support this, however. The other main ingredient is sugar (they do make a sugar free version as you note). It is likely the caffeine that is what provides the most boost, as there's about half the amount in a strong cup of coffee.

It's hard to say whether the drink is bad for you or not. There have been some reports of health issues including deaths associated with Red Bull, both in Sweden and the U.K.. Here's an example from 2001: Red Bull in suspected link to deaths

Denmark, Malaysia and France feel strongly enough about the risks to have put Red Bull in a class with pharmaceuticals because of the levels of caffeine.

All of that said, one would think that if there were markedly serious side effects, we would see many more problems. It's likely that one a day or so is not harmful. You would, however, be better off getting that boost from coffee or tea. While both have caffeine we know that the antioxidants that both have in abundance are good for you.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet